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Josip Jelačić

General in the Austrian army who was of great service to the Habsburg emperors during the revolutions of 1848 in their Monarchy. He is also regarded as perhaps the most illustrious of Croatian national heroes.

Jelačić was born in 1801 near the town of Novi Sad, in the Vojvodina region. Before 1848, he was attached to the empire's Military Frontier, which ran along the border with the Ottoman Empire and was under the direct control of central government in Vienna. Every man in the Frontier area was liable for military service in the frequent event of war with the Ottomans, and the system produced some of Austria's most steadfast soldiers.

In the 1840s, Jelačić sympathised with the Illyrianist movement of Ljudevit Gaj, a Croatian intellectual who believed that the Southern Slavs - Serbs, Croats and Slovenes - formed one race descended from the ancient Illyrians. Gaj's newspapers, written in the Serbo-Croatian language he had done much to standardise, were quietly encouraged by the Austrian chancellor, Klemens von Metternich, as a thorn in the side of the restive Magyar nobility.

The revolutionary spirit of March 1848 brought down Metternich in Vienna, provoked the Hungarian nationalist leader Lajos Kossuth to make wide-ranging demands for autonomy and inspired the Sabor, Croatia's parliament, to declare Jelačić the new governor, or Ban, of Croatia. With disturbances also occurring in Budapest, Prague and the provinces of Lombardy and Venetia, not to mention the capital itself, Emperor Ferdinand I had little choice but to rubber-stamp the Sabor's decision.

In keeping with the mood of the time, Jelačić accorded to the standard liberal policies of abolishing serfdom and feudal dues. Elections to the Sabor, presently an assembly of nobles, were scheduled for May, and, for the sake of Croatian unity, the Military Frontier would also vote.

Perhaps most importantly, Jelačić vowed to defend Croatian independence from Hungary, of which Croatia was then an autonomous region, and declared in April that Croatia and Hungary should exist on an equal basis.

Ferdinand's first strategy to cope with the Hungarian rebellion had been to conciliate Budapest, and he officially sacked Jelačić as Ban of Croatia in June after he refused to come to the emperor's court to explain himself. His replacement, General János Hrabovszky, shelled the city of Karlovci and made Novi Sad surrender, but was unable to force Jelačić to back down, and the Sabor confirmed him as Ban of Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia - the old Croatian Triune Kingdom.

Hrabovszky was surreptitiously ordered to withdraw, and the imperial war minister, Count Theodor Latour, began to supply Jelačić's army on the quiet, recognising how much value the Ban would have now that it seemed necessary to put down the Budapest revolt by force. Jelačić's appointment was officially recognised once again, and he crossed the river Drava into Hungary with 40,000 men on September 11, 1848.

Jelačić was almost joined by the Hungarian commander on the Drava, Adam Teleki, and even without Teleki was able to advance far enough for Ferdinand to declare him the military and civil governor of Hungary on October 3. However, he had already been forced back to Bratislava after the Battle of Pákozd, at which he linked up with General Alfred Windischgraetz - fresh from suppressing the uprising in Prague - and attempted to march on Vienna to restore order there.

Windischgraetz went on to occupy Budapest in December, although Russian intervention, in the spring and summer of 1849, was eventually necessary to pacify Hungary. Jelačić returned to Zagreb, where - owing his first loyalty, as an army officer, to the new emperor Franz Josef - he did not protest the neo-absolutist constitutional arrangements introduced by Alexander Bach after the revolutions had been suppressed.

Strictly speaking, Croatia and Hungary were indeed put on equal terms under the Bach System, but not in a way that would satisfy either Zagreb or Budapest. Central government from Vienna was strengthened at the expense of regional autonomy, and German became the official language of state. Croatians complained, and with reason, that they had received as a reward what the Magyars had been given as punishment.

Jelačić died in 1859 - the year that the Bach System was unravelled after Austria's defeat at the Battle of Solferino - and was quickly commemmorated with a statue of himself on horseback in Jelačić Square in central Zagreb, erected in 1866. The elder Johann Strauss, father of the composer of Blue Danube fame, wrote a Jelačić March in his honour, a lesser-known companion piece to his Radetzky March.

The Jelačić statue was removed by the Communist regime of Josip Broz Tito in 1947, but quickly restored once Croatia attained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. His portrait appears on the front of Croatia's 20-kuna note.

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